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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Fighting The War on Drugs: A Re-cap

On May 20th we were fortunate enough to get a little media coverage. Yours truly (David Dancy) considered dusting off the ol' press pass and submitting copy of my own. But I am true to my belief that 'real' journalism is objective.
Since I was intimately involved in all phases of planning and implemention of this event I recused myself from covering it as a journalist.
The Observer Dispatch did send a reporter and I think she did a great job of bringing this conversation to the forefront.
Enjoy and get involved...with something.
Legalizing drugs was the topic of conversation during a panel discussion about America’s drug policy late last month.
About 50 people attended the panel discussion, that took place on May 20 at The Other Side on
2011 Genesee Utica. Topics ranged from policy reform, to the legalization of all drugs – from marijuana to heroin and even methamphetamine.
“I think it is okay for adults to use drugs responsibly,” Pete Bianco said after a panel discussion.
Bianco who organized the event with David Dancy, knows his remark is controversial. “I think this is very difficult, because we’ve been told different lies."
The panel included Peter Christ, a retired police captain and the founder of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP); Larry Tanoury, Jr., Oneida County legislator for the 25th District; J. Barrett Lee, a former addictions counselor and vicar of the Free Episcopal Church, and Jessica Maxwell of the Syracuse Peace Council.
Dancy said the goal of the event was “to open up the dialogue.”
“Neither me nor Pete have any answers,” he said. “But what we do know is what we’re doing now is not working.”
“I’ve been thinking about it for a long time,” Bianco said. “And the more I look at it, the more problems there are with ‘The War on Drugs.’”
Bianco cited racism, the number of people imprisoned on drug charges, the amount of money spent on the War on Drugs and the effect of American drug policy on other nations as some of the problems with the current stance on illicit drugs.
“Originally, I was thinking (of) The War on Drugs as needing reform,” Bianco said. Now, however, he believes in legalization.
Each of the panelists gave a brief presentation and then answered questions from those in the audience. Christ said generating a dialogue is a first step to finding a solution. LEAP’s stated mission is “to reduce the multitude of unintended harmful consequences resulting from fighting the war on drugs, and to lessen the incidence of death, disease, crime, and addiction by ultimately ending drug prohibition.”“Law enforcement is here to protect people from each other,” Christ said, not to protect adults from themselves.
Lee said when the average person thinks of “The War on Drugs in America,” they think of an “African American youth standing on a street corner flashing gang colors,” not celebrities or star athletes or suburban teens. But, he said, these people are also affected by drug use.
“Everyone in America is touched by the issue of drugs in some way,” Dancy said.Lee compared the War on Drugs to a “V.”At the two tops of the V, he said, there are rich and powerful people – international organized crime (the source of the drugs) on one side and on the other, celebrities who use drugs without recourse. At the bottom of the “V,” are disenfranchised individuals who are often targeted by law enforcement. “The War on Drugs is essentially a war on the poor,” Lee said. As a former addictions counselor, Lee added that prohibition is hurting those who need to seek help, because they do not want to be labeled as an addict or be followed by that stigma. “This is blocking people from seeking the treatment that they need,” Lee said. “Through this moral mythology … we are hurting people.”
Maxwell spoke about the effects of the U.S. War on Drugs on other nations, specifically Colombia. The Colombian military has a long record of human rights abuses, and Colombia is home to a significant percentage of the world’s flora. The War on Drugs has spurred aerial assaults with powerful herbicides and forced manual eradication of cocoa by the military. “Cocoa is not cocaine,” Maxwell emphasized.
Laurel Richards of New Hartford came to hear Jessica Maxwell speak about Colombia, having recently returned from the South American nation herself. She said, she listened to the other panelists with interest. “It makes total sense,” she said.
Nicole Vitteli, 21, of Whitesboro attended, she said, in an effort to become more educated on different issues. At the end of the discussion, she said she hadn’t yet formed an opinion.
An interest in the issue of racism is what drew Dr. Sunithi Bajekal of Utica to the forum, she said.
Panelists agreed that the current social and political climate offers an opportunity for change.The recession offers an opportunity for anti-prohibition activists, Christ said, calling the War on Drugs, which costs almost $70 billion annually, an economic luxury.“I think we’re closer now than we ever were,” Tanoury said. However, he cautioned, those who want to see change cannot get “complacent” and must “keep the pressure on.”Dancy said that he and Bianco hope to continue the discussion at future forums and sessions including more local political leaders.
“We’re going to keep having the conversation,” Dancy said.

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